In 2010, a pair of enterprising young art/music curators went out on a limb with the inaugural VIA Music & New Media Festival, shaking up the scene with one-of-a-kind collaborations between cutting-edge performers and visual artists.
It was a risky proposition that involved investing a lot of their own money -- and it wasn't a reach to think it would be a one-and-done deal.
Two years later, Lauren Goshinski, marketing manager for Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts, and web designer Quinn Leonowicz are back for a third annual festival with an expanded schedule and some events that will take place in VIA's own new permanent space in East Liberty.
"It just keeps getting more positive. Or, not even more positive, it keeps getting broader," she says of VIA. "I've noticed, especially since we've opened up our own venue in East Liberty, even within the past five months, I see tons of people I've never seen before at our events. So, the base of the audience is just getting wider. It's having the effect we wanted where different groups of people are mixing and pulling in different friends. People from out of town are starting to travel in for shows. That is what we wanted to have happen."
The festival began earlier this week with avant-garde singer-songwriter Julia Holter and picks up steam this weekend with edgy Detroit house DJ MoodyMann; flamboyant Kansas City art-punk band Ssion ("shun"); sci-fi techno acts Girl Unit and Gatekeeper; Brazil-to-Brooklyn funk artist Zuzuka Poderosa; and haunting singer-songwriter Daughn Gibson.
MoodyMann, aka Kenny Dixon Jr., who is known to work hidden from the audience and stop records to launch into various tirades, is the likely provocateur on the lineup.
"MoodyMann serves the purpose of history," she says. "He's a figure that has been around for a while, but he's just badass and he's weird and mercurial. He's never played in Pittsburgh. He's done a lot to keep a very Detroit feel in house music throughout the last 15 years. He's an excellent live performer, and he's like Don Rickles and heckles the audience and is very in tune with people. He serves like a lineage/respect type purpose but he's also super relevant. He's making music that anyone can get down to. Just like last year, I would say Underground Resistance and Trans Am were the ones who served kind of a historical line but were still sounding really current.
"As far as new stuff," she adds, "I'm really excited for Le1f, this guy out of New York who is like an out-and-proud hip-hop producer. And I'm really excited for Gatekeeper and Ssion on Friday and Saturday. Ssion is like kind of queer punk-pop, more like performance art, but sounds great and super danceable. Gatekeeper is an entirely different world to experience. I don't even know how to describe it. It's a fully integrated A/V performance, very industrial, very apocalyptic."
From LA and DC comes Nadastrom, the booming electronic dance duo of David Nada and Matt Nordstrom.
"Nadastrom is a duo that essentially created the moombahton genre, which has been taking festivals by storm all over the world," Ms. Goshinski says. "They are good example of producers in the process of influencing popular music."
Although the money and availability is a huge factor in booking the acts, as it is in any festival, Ms. Goshinski says they've had a lot of good fortune in getting what they want.
"We never feel like we're settling for something. We're not just filling holes. We won't book something that were not completely excited about. Those limitations of money and timing kind of have us making decisions on the fly. We have to be really agile with our booking and sometimes take chances on people. For example, the first year, with Big Freedia, we were shuffling around a whole bunch of stuff, we were trying to find something and we were doing this research, and no one really knew who she was, and we were like, 'Let's book it,' and two weeks later, she was on the cover of the arts section of The New York Times.
"So, we're still operating that way, a lot of it is gut instinct, booking someone that perhaps is very cheap and available but they blow up immediately. Le1f is kind of like that. We reached out to him a long time ago and now he's doing soundtracks for runway shows for New York Fashion Week and all this other crazy stuff."
The performances will be enhanced by new media artists such as Jeremy Bailey and RobotCowboy who perform visuals live along with the sets. In addition, there are a number of exhibits and workshops throughout the festival.
"I'm really excited about Babycastles Pop-Up Arcade because that calls for people from the community -- whatever age you are, whatever level of experience -- to bring things like giant stuffed animals, cardboard boxes, old suitcases, and Babycastles, which is a gaming collective out of New York City, is going to teach you how to hack them and turn them into consoles and other kinds of indie games."
VIA will take place at various locations in East Liberty, including the PNC Bank Building, which is slated for demolition.
"I really want to stress that this is an equal arts and music festival," Ms. Goshinski says. "All the art events are massive this year, there's a lot of free stuff, they're all age appropriate. I think people tend to forget about that when they go, 'Oh, music festival.' It's not just a music festival. It never has been."
Asked what got her into music that goes further left than left of the dial, she says, "I just know what I like. I come from a musical family, I'm into weird [stuff]. I like stuff that's not on the radio. I've always been like that.
VIA Music and Art Festival
A/V Performances: Girl Unit / Le1f / Poirier / SlowPitch / Di-ay Battad / Kevin Ramser / Audra Wist, 6119 Penn Ave., East Liberty, 9 p.m. Ticketed, 18+.
Event: TRANS-Q TV Live Taping w/ SSION, Alaska Thvnderfvck, CMU, Oakland. 2 p.m., all ages.
Workshop: Babycastles Pop-Up Arcade, DeepLocal, East Liberty, 5-10 p.m., free, all ages.
Workshop: Data Garden: Plants, Music + Technology, Center for Post Natural History, Garfield, 6-9 p.m., free, all ages.
Event: New Ages 3 -- Incite! Journal Videos + Performances, 6119 Penn Ave., East Liberty, 6-9 p.m. free, 18+.
A/V Performances: Tiger + Woods / Spinn + Rashad / SSION / Zuzuka Poderosa / Jeremy Bailey / Katie Torn / Scott Andrew / Timothy Sherman, 6000 Penn (former PNC Bank), East Liberty. 8 p.m. Ticketed, 18+.
After Party: Santiago Salazar / Revy / Jason Cuban / Casey Hallas, 6119, 6119 Penn Ave., East Liberty 11 p.m. Ticketed, 18+.
Workshops: Babycastles Pop-Up Arcade, Make + Break w Assemble, DeepLocal, East Liberty, 3-10 p.m., free, all ages.